How to harvest garlic bulbils

obrionusa(5)July 13, 2011

I saved some of the seed heads from the tips of the scapes. I assume these are bulbils, let them dry on a paper towel and ate the scapes. Can I plant these seeds?

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One can most certainly plant the bulbils and they will produce if they were mature when originally harvested.

For anyone interested, the following are my experiences with bulbils:

Porcelain and purple stripe hardnecks mostly produce heads containing many tiny wheat kernel- to popcorn kernel-size bulbils. Rocambole hardnecks mostly produce heads containing fewer larger pea- to marble-size bulbils. There apparently are exceptions so this is just a general observation. My artichoke softnecks produce small quantities of pea- to marble-size bulbil clusters on nodes on the plant stems. At this time I do not have any experience regarding bulbil production of silverskins, marbled purple stripes, glazed purple stripes, creoles, turbans, or asiatics. Anyone's input regarding these would be most welcome.

Harvest bulbils when mature or when harvesting the main garlic crop. They are generally not mature until the cluster has expanded enough to split open the sheath that surrounds the cluster. I prefer to hang and dry the entire plant from the roots to the bulbil cluster. Dry down bulbil clusters until the bulbils fall off somewhat easily when rubbed. Separate bulbils from clusters, remove chaff, and dry down further in a shallow pan where there is air movement and no direct sunlight. Bulbils have a high moisture content so they take a lot of drying/curing time - they may get moldy if not attended to properly. Warning: Moldy, rancid bulbils reek very badly. Trust me - you do not want to let this happen. Store at room temperature or cooler in an unsealed container. Do not refrigerate. Plant at the normal time that one would plant the main garlic crop in your particular zone.

The tiny wheat kernel- to popcorn kernel-size bulbils will produce pea- to marble-size garlic rounds the first year and can take three years or more to produce a decent-sized cloved bulb. These rounds can be left in the ground for multiple seasons (until they produce cloved bulbs) or dug up each year and replanted in the fall as one would the garlic bulbs/cloves. I prefer to dig mine up each year so I can sort out the larger rounds for replanting. This also allows me to prep a new bed to incorporate compost and fertilizer, and minimize soil compaction and weed growth - I like to start every garlic bed "fresh" each year, so to speak.

Larger pea- to marble-size bulbils will produce miniature cloved bulbs the first year - some varieties will produce dime- or penny-size rounds the first year and miniature cloved bulbs the second year. Cloved bulbs should always be dug up the same season they are produced.

The tiny bulbils will produce first-year plants that look like grass or miniature chives. The leaves can be harvested in spring and used like garlic chives, if desired, but the plant will most likely be sacrificed.

The larger bulbils will produce first-year plants that are third- to half-size normal garlic plants. Some varieties will produce miniature scapes (which btw are VERY tasty and not so woody textured), and will produce miniature bulbil clusters the first season as well if the scapes are not removed. Removal of scapes will produce noticeably larger, albeit still miniature, cloved bulbs. The larger bulbils also make an excellent green garlic that can be harvested in spring and be used as one would a fresh green onion or scallion.

Tiny Bulbil Seed Planting Schedule: One-half to one inch apart and one-quarter to one-half inch deep. Do not be concerned with seed orientation. Four to six inches between rows - six inches is preferable as it allows for easier weeding.

Large Bulbil Seed Planting Schedule: Three inches apart and one-half to one inch deep. Try to orient these larger bulbils correct side up - if they are planted on their sides they will right themselves but if planted upside down they will produce a viable bulb with a bent stem. This is simply an appearance issue so it is really not a problem. Deal with the orientation issue as you wish. Six to twelve inches between rows - twelve inches is preferable as it allows for easier weeding.

If one has a rare or unique variety of garlic or a family favorite or family heirloom, saving some bulbils is a good way to have an emergency backup of seed stock for that variety should your garlic crop fail due to disease or whatever. It is also a good way to acquire a lot of free seed stock for building up quantity, if that is desired.

The bulbils themselves can also be used in cooking as well, with pleasant results. I use them in fall and winter in soups and casseroles, and occasionally in omelettes. Use your imagination. They are like crunchy little garlic explosions when eaten. The bulbils stay fresh for 6-7 months if stored properly. They seem to get more pungently flavored as they age - they become less desirable to me the longer they are stored.

Good luck and have fun!

    Bookmark   July 15, 2011 at 12:26PM
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I am so glad to come aross this...thank you for posting the information. My first year at being more serious on garlic plant and harvesting. We had a drought this summer and I lost almost all except for Italian Purple easy peel, Madrid (only a few)and Susan D. (maybe 4 cloves)This year I plant to learn more about the different varieties and how/when to harvest.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 4:38PM
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That was a great write up Tom. Thanks for taking the time to share!


    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 5:31PM
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I agree, He gave me some excellent advice. Thanks for your knowledge Tom!

    Bookmark   August 4, 2011 at 7:45AM
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Thanks. Happy to help.

No exaggeration - I have tens of thousands of properly cured bulbils and first-year rounds from up to 13 garlic varieties available for trade starting in mid September. If anyone wants to see a photo of my "seed" stock I will certainly post some pics if requested to do so (probably on a new thread). What is available is now listed on my personal trade page. If anyone wants to experiment with these little critters then contact me in September sometime.

Again, please note that I am much too busy right now to even consider doing trades - you can send me an email now if you want to but I may not reply for a couple of weeks.


Here is a link that might be useful: Varieties of bulbils and rounds I have available.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 7:20PM
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I grew the asiatic variety Asian Tempest this year and it formed big pea sized bulbils. This variety is nice because keeping the scapes on to grow bulbils does not make the bulbs appreciably smaller. I plan to plant the bulbils pretty close together, then them in the spring (eat the thinnings as garlic greens, very tasty) and let the remainder grow into the sumnmer, when I harvest and cure them with the other garlic, to replant in a fresh bed that fall (I always rotate m planting- never plant garlic in the same bed 2 years running, to minimize disease etc). By the second or third year I should have full size garlic bulbs, and since they bulbils were not originally grown in soil, planting bulbils is a way to obtain a disease-free, vigorous crop inexpensively.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2012 at 11:40AM
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WiscoScott, the principle disease of garlic is yellows, and there was a serious outbreak in MN this year, as you may have read. By growing on the bulbils, you are effectively vegetatively reproducing the same garlic as in the basal bulb, diseases and all. The only way to produce a disease / virus free version is by producing it from true seed. The viruses cannot be transmitted by seed. There was a very good discussion on this forum a while back on how to produce true garlic seed, not bulbils.


    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 1:06PM
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how long will a bulbil still be plantable after being dried out?

    Bookmark   November 27, 2012 at 10:09PM
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jusme_newby(5b North-Central MO)

During the first year, how big will the new plants get? Mine are hardneck. Can I plant them now (@ Aug 1) in seed starting trays and leave them all winter in my heated and air conditioned shop? How close together if I plant them in a large flat?
This is my first year and my garlic crop turned out great. I would like to continue with this variety (I don't know the name, I got them from a local gardener). I will plant some of the cloves from my first harvest but I am willing to invest the time to start some from bulbils,

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 2:21PM
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If you scroll up and read the second post, it comprehensively explains about growing bulbils. It wouldn't be advisable planting them in flats, there won't be enough depth for the roots to grow.
Flats would also dry out too quickly, bulbils are very sensitive to lack of water and their growth will be checked if allowed to dry out too quickly. However, if you prefer to grow them in a container, ideally, allow at least 6" depth.
I've had success in both containers and the open ground. The bulbils are useful sprinkled between rows of different varieties as dividers:)
If you take a look around these sites, it may help you to identify the group that your hardneck belongs to -
This is a great blog with photos about growing bulbils
In the comments, there's a link to Snakeroot farm which explains about the effect of planting on times whether you get rounds or minature bulbs. I prefer rounds as they tend to yield larger, almost normal sized bulbs when you replant them the following year. The exception would be the rounds from porcelains which yields bulbs about 1 - 1 1/2" diameter.

This post was edited by zqnmegan on Sun, Jul 28, 13 at 16:42

    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 4:33PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I would suggest keeping the scape on the stem until the harvest time and then cut it and keep it in water, outside in shade/ indirect light so the bulbils are fully developed. Then you can cure them and plant them like garlic cloves.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2013 at 2:33AM
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This was a very wet year and I think that is why I have this problem. In breaking my garlic cloves apart to prepare for planting, many of them had no skin(wrapper) on the side where they were joined to the next clove. I was very careful separating them. So I'm not sure about planting the ones not fully wrapped. Can I still plant them and if not, how can I preserve them so I don't lose almost half my crop. Very upsetting I must say. Thank you for any advise.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2014 at 12:23PM
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I haven't had this happen yet, but so long as they're not moldy you should plant them. They very likely won't preserve very well so planting seems like the best solution. The wrapper goes away pretty quickly under the ground anyway, so they should be ok.

I would guess that you might have picked them too early before the skins were fully developed but someone with more experience would have to say for sure.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2014 at 12:38PM
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hello sandrakassa, do you still have any bulbs/cloves that you could post a photo of? If the bulbs had outer wrappers and it was the individual cloves that were missing skins, it could have been double cloves that you were finding. They should be fine to plant.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2014 at 6:20PM
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